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story.lead_photo.caption Melissa Taverner stands in the middle of the Lyon College campus in Batesville. Taverner recently started as the new provost and dean of faculty at the Independence County college. She previously served as interim provost at Emory and Henry College in Emory, Va. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

BY MARK BUFFALO

Staff Writer

Melissa Taverner, the new provost and dean of faculty of Lyon College in Batesville, is happy to be in the Independence County city.

“I love this area,” said Taverner, who started in the position Jan. 15. “My husband and I got here on Jan. 9, but the overarching impression is that everyone here is kind and very welcoming and very willing to help you figure things out as you get here.

“That has been so nice. We’ve met some of the nicest people who would go out of their way for you.”

Taverner, 56, was hired for the Lyon College position, replacing interim provost Paul Bube, who returned to the classroom after Taverner took over.

“A lot of people want Lyon to be successful, and when they hear that you are going to be working at Lyon, they say, ‘What can we do to help Lyon be successful?’ I’m like, ‘That’s awesome.’

“The relationship between the institution and the community — I know sometimes it’s a fraud, but I think there is a real sense of mutual support at Lyon. Lyon most definitely wants to be a supportive force for the community, and I think the community says we want to support the college. That’s a nice relationship to walk into.”

Prior to coming to Lyon, Taverner worked for 23 years at Emory and Henry College in Emory, Virginia. She said the college campus is in a rural area, and she and her family lived in the country. They now live in the Batesville city limits.

“To get to the college, you drive up an interstate,” Taverner said. “It’s gorgeous. There is a little community there. It’s really small. To go grocery shopping, you drive 5 or 7 miles.

“My husband and I for the past 23 years lived in the country because we had small children. When we came here, we made the decision to be in town. We walk to church. We walk to eat breakfast, walk to the library. That’s wonderful. I forgot what that was like. You also feel like you are part of this vibrant community. In three weeks, we’ve made a number of connections in our immediate community, and they have been very welcoming. We feel like we are part of a community. That’s nice.”

Taverner said her family has been ready for this type of living situation.

“I can’t imagine living outside of Batesville and commuting to work,” she said. “I want to be in Batesville. This is an awesome community with great folks. It’s a good place to be.”

Taverner was born in Danville, Virginia, which is near the Virginia-North Carolina border. She attended Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Virginia, where she received a bachelor’s degree in biology. She spent a year at Reading University in England. She received a master’s degree in virology from Reading and a doctorate in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

While at Virginia, Taverner worked in cancer research in the department of microbiology.

“After that, I decided to go back to the virus work that I had done before,” she said. “I had worked on insect viruses and cancer research.

“I enjoyed the work. I liked the multidisciplinary aspect of the work on insect viruses because I’m working on them as a biological control entity, using them to control pest populations, that sort of stuff.”

After completing that work, Taverner got her doctorate at Virginia.

“After graduate school, I took up a teaching position at Emory and Henry College. I was there for 23 years before I came here.”

During the last part of her tenure at Emory and Henry, Taverner served as interim provost of the college.

“So for a year, I actually got a chance to do this type of work,” she said. “Prior to that, I had been a department chair. I was chair of the Natural Science Division. I had done a bunch of different types of administrative work in the college setting.

“But when I had the opportunity to do the provost job, I viewed that sort of job as stepping up a ladder. I don’t mean hierarchically, but I mean in terms of perspective.”

Being the provost of a college, second only behind the school president, Taverner said, you get a global view of all how the pieces at a college work together.

“But I like things that are multifaceted,” she said. I like seeing how the puzzle works together. I found that I really enjoyed the work. I was very fortunate to have that opportunity. I had not thought about that seriously as a career option. In that year, I found that I really loved it.”

Taverner applied for the permanent provost job at Emory and Henry and got to the finalist stage but didn’t get the position.

“The president had encouraged me to apply for it. … I honestly didn’t want to. It’s like family. When you know the institution and you know the faculty, you know everyone so well, and you step into that sort of administrative role, it’s a different relationship. That is sometimes difficult to navigate. My first inclination was to not apply for that position, but my president insisted.”

After not getting the position at Emory and Henry, Taverner said she wasn’t mad.

“No harm, no foul,” she said. “I had already decided that I was going to be looking for this type of work. If I was offered that position at my prior institution, I would have had to have thought about if I would have accepted it or not.”

Going through the interview process was a good thing for Taverner.

“I think it was good for me to go through that self-examination,” she said. “The decision was made for me. I thought, ‘I really do like this work.’ I wanted to seek an opportunity where I can serve students that way.”

Taverner said she became aware of the position at Lyon in July 2017.

“President King wanted someone to be on board as soon as possible,” Taverner said, referring to new Lyon College President Joey King, who started his job July 1, 2017.

Taverner said she did a Skype interview with the Lyon College committee and was advanced to a finalist position.

“I interviewed here at the beginning of October,” she said. “It was a couple of weeks later when they extended the offer. Then my husband and I came toward the end of October. He has a career, too. We looked around and thought this would be a good fit for us, so I accepted the position toward the end of October.”

King said Taverner will fit in well on the Lyon campus.

“Dr. Taverner brings extensive classroom and academic leadership experience to Lyon, as well as experience with strategic planning and assessment; recruitment and retention; high-impact academy experiences; and diversity and inclusion,” King said. “Having attended and spent her career at a residential liberal arts college, she deeply understands our mission and commitment to transformational experiences for our students. I look forward to working with Dr. Taverner as we strategically examine ways to advance Lyon’s academic reputation and ensure its financial sustainability.”

Taverner believes she will be at Lyon for years to come.

“I definitely want to be here for a while,” she said. “I want to have a long-term relationship with a college. I think there is a lot of good work to be done here. There are a lot of things that we do really well, but that doesn’t mean that as our student population changes and as we grow, that we don’t need to continue examining the work that we do and maybe adjust and do it better.

“That is one of the roles of the provost — to say, ‘Where do we go? Where are we going next, and how do we need to change so that we can continue to serve our students?’”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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